as reported to Kenn Chapman
Early in October, 1997, we received a collection of newspaper clippings and press releases from Tom Kuhns of Williamsport PA, giving us the story of the early days of Toby -- our adult male peregrine falcon at the Etobicoke site.
Despite some initial problems, two peregrine falcon chicks destined to be reared atop the Commonwealth Bank building this summer are slated to arrive here June 7.
An informal public "welcoming" for the birds will be held at the bank at 11 a.m. that day, if everything goes as scheduled, said Jerry Zeidler, information supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Northcentral Region Office.
The "hacking box" that will be the chicks' home on the bank roof has been built, and a display explaining the project to reintroduce the endangered birds of prey has been set up in the bank lobby.
"We're ready to go. It's just a matter of the birds showing up," Zeidler said.
The chicks that will be coming here currently are being cared for by a captive female peregrine owned by Alan Pollard, a wildlife propagator at Dillsburg, Zeidler said.
Plans were to bring three chicks here, but the Game Commission was unable to obtain enough eggs from wild peregrine nests in the Philadelphia area to meet that goal, he said. A falcon pair nesting on a bridge over the Delaware River moved its nest from last year's site to a place where it could not be reached without extreme danger to the people collecting the eggs.
The project also skirted a tragedy when a raccoon killed the falcon that Pollard was using as the chick's surrogate mother, Zeidler said. Although inside a wire enclosure, the female apparently got too close to the raccoon while instinctively trying to defend the chicks.
Fortunately, Pollard had a second female -- a daughter of the ill-fated bird -- that, despite being young, readily took over parental duties, Zeidler said.
Ed Reish, the local wildlife rehabilitator who will coordinate care of the birds, and Barry Hill, a licensed falconer, are gathering supplies of quail and pigeons needed to feed the bird-eating falcons.
And Lycoming Audobon Society members are lined up to keep watch over the chicks during the six weeks or so until they learn to fly and fend for themselves.
Closed-circuit television cameras hooked to TV monitors in the bank will allow the public to see the birds feeding, growing and practicing for flight.
The project is jointly sponsored by the bank, the game commission and the Audubon Society.
Peregrines disappeared from Pennsylvania around 1940 and from all states east of the Mississippi River by 1960, as a result of pesticide poisoning and loss of habitat. Federal and state agencies began programs in the 1970s to restore falcons in the East. In the 1980s, a pair was discovered nesting on a Pittsburgh skyscraper. Currently, the only known nesting sites in the state are the one there and five around Philadelphia.
Plans are to release several birds here over the next two or three years in hopes that one will return with a mate to establish a nest in the city or at some nearby, natural location.
The city's peregrine falcon chicks flew the coop this morning, causing no end to consternation for their caretakers. For their maiden flights, first one, then the other took off from the top of commonwealth Bank just after 6 a.m. and to the Grit building, about 200 yards away.
Naturally, they had to do it while Lycoming Audubon Society members keeping watch over them were otherwise occupied.
Some tense moments passed until a directional radio tracking device pinpointed the birds. One of the falcons, wearing a yellow transmitter, could be seen atop an elevator tower at the rear of the former newspaper building. Occasionally it would jump up onto the tower's parapet and flap its wings, as if about to fly. But the other, with a blue-gray transmitter, remained hidden among the multi-level roofs, chimneys and equipment on the Grit.
As the hours dragged by, Ed Reish, the birds' primary caretaker, and others watching from the roof of the Midtown Parking Deck became increasingly concerned at not seeing the second bird. Reish and Barry Hill, an area falconer working on the project, obtained entry to the Grit about 11 a.m. Just as they arrived on one roof level, the bird with the yellow transmitter took off again, flying another 200 yards or so to a ledge on the main tower at City Hall
The second bird could not be found, despite a thorough search of the Grit's roofs. Hill used the radio tracker to determine that the second bird also had flown in the direction of City Hall. Interference surrounding buildings made it difficult to zero in on the bird, though.
At press time, the men were still wandering downtown trying to catch sight of the falcon with the blue transmitter. Reish said it is imperative that the birds return to their enclosure atop the bank building within 48 hours to feed. They are not yet able to catch their own food.
The peregrine falcon chicks who flew the coop yesterday morning are making their way back to the roof of the Commonwealth Bank downtown, according to Ed Reisch, the primary caretaker of the endangered pair.
Reisch, who along with members of the Lycoming Audubon Society, are keeping watch over the young birds, said one of the birds twice yesterday tried to fly to the rooftop "hacking box" where their food is located. They are not yet able to catch food on their own. According to Reisch, the falcon wearing a yellow transmitter narrowly missed landing on the top ledge of the West Third Street bank. The bird aborted its attempt and landed instead on the lower roof of the former L.L. Stearns and Sons building across the street.
The birds are each wearing a directional radio tracking device to assist the caretakers in keeping an eye on them.
After resting, the bird failed in a second attempt to land on the commonwealth building, according to the watcher. That bird spent the night on top of the building housing the Varsity Shop and Reisch expects he will make his journey for nourishment sometime today.
The second bird, which was out of sight for hours yesterday, was discovered about 1 p.m. in the bell tower of St Paul Lutheran church, West fourth and Center Streets, where he spent the night. That bird flew from the bell tower about 6:45 a.m. only to reappear atop the Genetti about two hours later.
The bird wearing a blue-grey transmitter, flew off the roof only to return a short time later. Both birds are "really flying good now," Reisch said, although he is worried that they have not eaten since Monday. "that's one of the reasons we're watching them closely," he explained. If the birds are unable to return to the hacking box, Reisch indicated they will be offered food to keep up their strength.
One of two peregrine falcons released in the city this month died this week after becoming trapped in a 15-foot cooling tower on top of the Genetti, according to Barry Hill, a master falconer and caretaker of the two birds. Hill siad he became suspicious Thursday after noting a radical decrease in the amount of food being consumed and could not sight the peregrine, even though an electornic transmitter indicated the bird was on the hotel roof.
So he decided to go up to the roof to investigate. "Experience told me I was within a few yards of the transmitter with no bird in sight," he said. "This hopefully means a thrown transmitter or the unthinkable, a bird in serious trouble in an unnatural position.
"Regrettably for those who have followed the birds' progress, it was the latter." Hill indicated finding the bird trapped in the cooling tower, which operates with a constant waterfall-type action. "Immediately soaked, the falcon had no hope of flying up and out against the water spray and apparently drowned in the 10 inches of water in the bottom of the tower," he said.
The bird was retrieved and surrendered to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. the hotel has given the "critically needed cooperation" for the project, and measures are being explored to prevent a repeat accident of that nature, Hill said.
Meanwhile, the remaining falcon is progressing on schedule.
The city's remaining peregrine falcon continues to extend its range and ability but returns regularly to the Genetti Hotel roof for meals. The male bird ... has been making longer and longer flights over the past week or so, Barry Hill, chief local caretaker for the young bird, said.
The falcon has been spending less and less time perched on the Genetti in recent days, Hill said. but it returns there once or twice daily for meals of freshly-killed quail that Hill puts out....
The bird managed to pull off the radio transmitter placed on it when it was brought here. so it has been difficult to keep track of its comings and goings, Hill said.
It also has been impossible to tell if the falcon has made its first kill yet. "But it definitely is interested in chasing things," he said. While driving into the city one day last week, he said, he spotted the falcon flying over South Williamsport. It started back across the Susquehanna River then dived underneath the Market Street bridge, apparently chasing pigeons that roost there.
The fact that the young falcon continues to return to the Genetti to feed is a good indication that it has not yet developed its hunting skills enough to meet its food needs, Hill said. However, he is confident that if the bird were to leave the area tomorrow, it could sustain itself with little trouble once it became hungry.
Since the falcon has developed so much of its instinctive flying skills, Hill said he is confident the bird should survive through the summer -- barring another accident. It then will migrate south in autumn and, it is hoped, survive to return here next spring.
... it's been learned that the first falcon successfully released in the Lycoming Audubon Society-Pennsylvania Game Commission project (in 1993) is nesting atop a building in Canada. The male peregrine and its mate are raising three chicks on a building in Etobicoke Borough, Toronto, Ontario, according to Ed Reish, caretaker for the local peregrines, who relayed information received from wildlife biologist Dan Brauning of the Game Commission.
Reish said the bird has been positively identified by his leg bands. The information comes from watchers keeping tabs on peregrine nests in the Canadian city. "This is the oldest bird we have out there," Reish said. "He's showed up. We know where he's at. This is great news."
As seen from the above articles, the peregrine falcon chick hacked in 1993 in Williamsport PA was never named. So, it would seem appropriate that the "temporary" name of Toby would remain, despite the possible confusion that the female chick hatched in Etobicoke this year (1997) was also named Tobi. Someday, perhaps, we may learn the fate of young Tobi; meanwhile, we expect to have Toby around for some years yet, raising many more little Tobies.
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